Prague – Czechs visiting the US will not need a visa after 17 November 2008, Czech PM Mirek Topolánek announced on Monday 27 October after a meeting with Michael Chertoff, the US secretary of homeland security.
“On 17 November we will enjoy, for the first time ever, visa-free travel to the US,” said the premier, adding that at first only passengers with biometric passports will be able to travel without a visa.
“I am looking forward to visitors from your country,” said Chertoff, adding that the move puts the Czech Republic on a par with western European countries, which have enjoyed visa-free travel for a long time. “I regard this as a big step forward. Everyone is now assessed according to the same criteria,” the secretary concluded.
The expanded US visa-waiver programme will also include Slovaks, Hungarians, Estonians, Latvians and South Koreans.
Online registration instead of visa
After these countries join the programme, their citizens holding a biometric passport will submit their personal data through a form available on the internet and send the form to the US embassy. The embassy will respond in several days.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) will only be available for those who want to visit the US as tourists for a maximum of three months. Students, guest workers and other visitors who need to stay for longer than 90 days will still need a visa.
The data required by the ESTA will be approximately the same as the data currently obtained through a paper form which passengers complete on the plane before landing in the US. Those who already hold a valid US visa will not have to do the ESTA.
Today, Czech tourists need to queue for US visa at the embassy and pay a fee of around CZK 2,000 (USD 100). But even after this duty is dropped, applicants may be summoned to the embassy should the consular department have any more questions about the details provided through the ESTA.
The US Embassy in Prague does not plan, for now, to charge any fee for submitting an ESTA form.
“It is for free now. Next year the impact on the budget will be evaluated and it is theoretically possible that a fee will be introduced. But it would be a significantly lower amount than the fee paid for a visa,” said Chertoff.